DESTIN — The city’s new tree ordinance, which officials said caused "widespread confusion" and received "overwhelming opposition by the public," is going back to the drawing board.
The City Council on Tuesday agreed to repeal the ordinance and schedule a workshop to begin crafting new tree protection and preservation rules. The new regulations will involve more stakeholder input, said Councilman Parker Destin, who made the motion to repeal the ordinance.
With the council’s vote, "the tree ordinance is no longer in effect," City Attorney Jeff Burns said.
The law had become "way too complicated" by the time it was finalized last month, Councilwoman Prebble Ramswell said before the vote.
"Is it better to whittle it down or start over?" she asked. "I’m not sure. But whatever is in place right now isn’t working."
For example, she said the ordinance would have forced a resident who needed to cut down several trees to obtain a permit and pay a fee for each tree.
And local arborist Aubrey Santucci, who had talked with several residential and commercial property owners about the law, told the council the ordinance’s mitigation fees were "off the chart."
Such fees would have been assessed for trees removed with permission by the city arborist.
"Let’s not try to assess an unnecessary fee on a 2-inch diameter tree that we can’t even identify in this ordinance," Santucci said.
City Tree Board Chairwoman and council candidate Teresa Hebert said she favored exempting homeowners from the ordinance rather than starting from scratch on a new set of rules.
"The original intent of this ordinance was to not affect homeowners; it was to be for the businesses and developers," Hebert said. "I don’t feel like we need to waste another eight months of redoing the entire ordinance."
Leigh Moore, the director of community affairs for the Howard Group real-estate development company in Miramar Beach, said the law that was approved by the council in January was intended to save Destin’s large, old heritage trees.
"Hopefully we can get something back that is more focused ... so that we can stop the reduction of the tree canopy and start mitigating it and replacing it for generations to come," she said.